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Getting pulled over is no picnic. But things can really go sideways if you don't know your rights -- you can either fail to enforce rights you do have or exacerbate the situation by claiming rights that you don't.
So the next time you get pulled over, make sure you're cool, calm, and collected and you're familiar with these three laws:
Police are allowed to request identification and registration and proof of insurance for the vehicle. And they are allowed to run a check on the vehicle and your license for any previous offenses, outstanding warrants, or issues with the car.
You have the right to free speech, but you might consider not exercising it during a traffic stop. In most police interactions, you have the right to refuse to answer questions. If you're pulled over in your car, you can simply decline to answer questions beyond fulfilling requests for your license and registration. If the officer doesn't immediately let you know why you were pulled over, you can ask; but if the officer asks you why you think you were pulled over, you're under no obligation to offer reasons or assume you know why you were stopped.
If officers ask you to come in for questioning, you can refuse. And if the traffic stops escalates into an arrest you can, and should, affirmatively invoke your Miranda rights under the Fifth Amendment and remain silent. And it is important to do all of the above calmly and politely.
Also, you don't need to consent to a search of your vehicle. While officers are free to look for anything in "plain view" during the stop, they need probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or a warrant to perform a search of your car. This requirement can be bypassed if you give police consent, so you should be explicit and polite in declining consent. If police search your car without your consent, and without probable cause or a warrant, any evidence they find may be considered "fruit of the poisonous tree" and therefore suppressed in court.
If you've been charged with a crime, or believe your rights were violated during a traffic stop, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.